Can we leave yet?

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has long faced United States sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses. But the World Health Organization’s new chief is making the longtime African leader a “goodwill ambassador.”

With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus told a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases that he’d agreed to be a “goodwill ambassador” on the issue.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region.”

A WHO spokeswoman confirmed the comments to The Associated Press on Friday.

Erm:

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe dropped from 61 in 1985 to 44 in 2003, according to World Bank figures, largely down to the nation’s crumbling economy and widespread poverty. Life expectancy has since recovered – but is still not as high as it was in the mid-1980s

Universal benefit complaints

For many of Inverness’s universal credit guinea pigs, the past year has been exceptionally stressful. The many glitches of a malfunctioning scheme have already caused widespread misery in this city, which has been trialling various forms of universal credit since 2013. The problems unfolding here offer a taste of what is to come when the system goes nationwide.

OK, so, government’s not very good at doing things then.

At which point we’ve a suggestion that government should be cooking lunch for 2.2 million people. Your lunch will be organic, sugar, salt and fat free, and arriving in 6 weeks?

It just does always amuse that those pointing out how shit bureaucracy is at doing things insist upon bureaucracy doing ever more things.

The $1.2 million fajita heist

What a lovely crime:

Former Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department employee Gilberto Escaramillo missed work one day in August for a medical appointment, the same day a delivery driver called the kitchen about having 800 pounds of fajitas to drop off, the paper said.

A woman informed the driver that the juvenile department didn’t serve the Tex-Mex food – but the driver said he’d been delivering it for nine years, Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz told the Herald.

“When Mr. Escaramilla reports to work the next day, he is confronted with the discussion and he admits he had been stealing fajitas for nine years,” Saenz said.

Escaramilla was fired that month and arrested after investigators obtained a search warrant and found packages of the Tex-Mex food in his refrigerator, Saenz explained.

They also checked invoices and determined he would intercept county-funded food deliveries and deliver them to his own customers, according to the newspaper.

He was determined to have stolen $1,251,578 of fajitas, the report added. Escaramilla was arrested last week on a felony theft charge.

Quite how you push that through the county billing and payment system I’m not sure but fun all the same.

Finally, something I agree about

Stephen McPartland, the MP for Stevenage, said he was urging Hammond to lower the “taper rate” on universal credit again to encourage people receiving in-work benefits to increase their hours without seeing so much of their additional pay taken away.

Hammond bowed to pressure from Conservative MPs at the autumn statement last year, reducing the taper rate from 65% to 63% at a cost of around £1bn over five years.

At the very worst the taper rate should be no higher than the top marginal income tax rate. For the same reason. That Laffer Curve exists and there’s somewhere between no and little evidence to say that it works differently dependent upon income band. Rates that are too high are too high.

Sure, holes blown in budgets and all that but let’s get the basics right before we construct those perhaps?

Government to stop breaking the law – liberals shocked

The White House will stop paying vital subsidies that offset the costs for insurers of covering lower-income people, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a statement Thursday.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies lawfully under Obamacare,” Sanders’ statement said.

Yes, it is all a bit murky but from what I’ve seen there is at least an argument that those subsidies are illegal.

There’s a seriously wondrous kicker to this story

This summer I got to see how Illinois government works from the inside when I accepted a high-level position at the governor’s office.

A lot of people have asked why I took the role, considering I have spent the bulk of my career railing against the government.

It came down to this: If I declined the job, I’d watch Illinois’ problems go unfixed and wonder if I could have made a difference. Or, I could enter the nucleus of state government and attempt to change the system from within.

The experience was eye-opening, but after six weeks I decided to leave the position. It was a dysfunctional workplace in a flailing administration. The bad I saw far outweighed any good I could do.

State government, lollygagging, inefficiency etc etc etc.

OK:

I was asked to bring four departments under one umbrella to streamline operations and increase effectiveness. Across these four departments, several jobs seemed duplicative or unnecessary, and there were some employees who weren’t productive.

I started by asking human resources for job descriptions and performance reviews for all staffers under my supervision, but was told none existed. Then I learned how it really worked.

Underperformers aren’t fired; they’re simply transferred to different positions, shuffled elsewhere on the payroll or tucked away at state agencies.

OK, yes, that’s how a union led bureaucracy works. Fine.

And the kicker?

Diana Sroka Rickert formerly worked for the libertarian-to-conservative Illinois Policy Institute and recently headed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s communications team.

There’re two in fact.

One, someone who writes this, ahem, well, was running a comms team? Secondly, that anyone vaguely libertarian or conservative thinks that a politician needs a comms team? Ain’t those two wondrous problems in and of themselves?

And yes, I’ve been paid to do political PR myself, incumbents don’t need it…..

There’s an easy solution here

Not a good one but it would be fun politically:

Savers may face a fresh raid on pensions as the cost of tax relief passed £50 billion for the first time.

Hmm.

There is also disquiet that at least 70 per cent of the cost goes to members of final-salary pension schemes, who are usually older workers who already have very comfortable pensions.

Abolish it for defined benefit pensions, keep it only for defined contribution. That, not entirely but mostly, screws those public sector pensions and leaves the private sector alone.

It would also, at a stroke, clip that 30% pay premium the public sector has as a result of those very generous pensions.

Not going to happen and I’m not entirely serious. But wouldn’t it be fun?

There’s an important point here

The government has been warned by councils, charities and now even its own backbenchers that universal credit is a social policy disaster. But how does it feel to be on the receiving end of this controversial benefits overhaul?

In the video, visually impaired council tenant Jo King, who lives on Newcastle’s Newbiggin Hall Estate, talks about dealing with delays and miscalculations ever since she was moved on to universal credit over a year ago. She explains how she has twice been left without any benefits at all. In order to survive, she was forced to stop paying her carer and request emergency food parcels.

Her rent, which under a special arrangement is supposed to go direct to management organisation Your Homes Newcastle, has been consistently miscalculated, leaving her anxious and fielding regular calls from her rent officer.

Note what this complain is. Not that the total amount of money on offer is meager or whatever, but that the State is simply incompetent at caclulating what the amount should be and then providing it.

As absolutely anyone who has ever been caught up in the welfare system knows this is not something unique to universal credit. Some to all of the various different payments can and will be screwed up at some time. The universal part here is just proving that it gets worse when there are many moving parts feeding into the one payment.

Now consider what the general political demand is these days. That government should have ever more influence over our lives, take care of ever more economic decisions for us. Indeed, it’s the very people highlighting the general organisational incompetence here who keep making that demand.

Something of a logical problem, no?

Her numbers never really do add up, do they?

If it’s a choice between electricity, snacks for the kids, or sanitary towels … Even that £2 at the end of the month matters,” says Kerry, from Aberdeen.

The 35-year-old is raising three teenagers alone – a daughter and two boys with autism. She doesn’t need to explain what gets sacrificed as she chooses between food, heating and other essentials for the children, and sanitary products for herself.

It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach. Research shows pads and tampons cost women around £13 every month. Add another £8 for new underwear, and then almost a fiver for pain relief. That means women need to find more than £300 each year for periods – or the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent.

See the leap there?

The average woman spends £300 a year. Thus poverty!

But the welfare state promises housing, an income, not a mansion nor even a median income.

So let’s return to the initial problem. Is it true that tampons are unaffordable? A quick look around Amazon or Morrison’s, to take two examples, tells us that own brands are of the order of 5p each, £1 for a box of 20 tampons. It is undoubtedly true that many will prefer branded to own-brand, which is why there are so many on the shelves. But even they seem to be little more than twice that price. I could also make the point here about the welfare state and our duty to the less well-off: we promise adequate housing, not a mansion; bus fare not a limo ride.

It’s actually a £12 a year problem. One that’s easily enough solved too. Just send each woman £12 a year and we’re done.

Just wondering why this is a problem

The family’s story is not unusual. In the UK, black households are much less likely to be homeowners than those headed by someone white or Asian and much more likely to be living in social housing.

For the same Guardian will tell us that social housing is just glorious, we should all be living in it and none of this nonsense of private property at all.

So, is this evidence of blacks being privileged in our society?

One of the problems with regulation

Those weapons have been largely outlawed for three decades, though Paddock used a device to give him “a souped-up semi”.

Jill Snyder, special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), said 12 of the guns found in the gunman’s hotel room were fitted with so-called “bump-stocks”. The device basically replaces the gun’s shoulder rest, with a “support step” that covers the trigger opening. By holding the pistol grip with one hand and pushing forward on the barrel with the other, the shooter’s finger comes in contact with the trigger. The recoil causes the gun to buck back and forth, “bumping” the trigger.

Technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a legal semi-automatic.

Is that you’ve got to be very detailed about the regulation and even then often enough someone will engineer around it. Regulation, therefore, isn’t as effective as the regulators assume.

Absolutely super

At a time of staggering inequality, I can’t believe that Congress and the Trump administration want to give me another tax break.

On Wednesday, the Republican party unveiled their tax reform plan, which included the elimination of the federal estate tax. But as one of a small segment of people in the top 1% with enough wealth to someday pay the estate tax, I believe a tax on inherited wealth is completely reasonable and fair.

Well, great, off you go then love. “Gifts to the United States” is the account, just send your check there.

After the second world war, between 1945 and 1975, we taxed wealthy people and invested in infrastructure, education, and middle-class opportunity. Veterans Administration mortgages, the GI bill, and other debt-free college opportunities put millions of families, albeit mostly white, on the road to economic prosperity. Median income rose commensurately for all working people, secretaries and sanitation workers as well as CEOs.

In recent decades, we have cut taxes on wealthy folks and failed to make adequate public investments to ensure broadly shared prosperity.

You do know that the Feds swallow more of the economy than they did back then, yes? Meaning that it’s what they’re spending on which is the problem, not the amount?

You know? This is why we get government to pay for research

The US transgender activist Riki Wilchins told Today there had been a strong political undercurrent in previous studies, which had been used to restrict transgender people’s access to surgery.

“So when I see one more study that aims to show transgender people really don’t need this or want this, or they are just deluded or suffering from some other kind of psychopathology, I look at it a little bit warily … The problem is not the study itself, it’s the uses to which that study is put,” she said.

Wilchins said a “very small fraction” of people decide to detransition. “I’m not trying to say it’s not a fraught experience for them, or that it should not be studied. But it’s not the first place I would put my money if I wanted to study the problems afflicting transgender people,” she said.

So that what gets studied is not determined by what you would do with your own money.

Sure, I too agree that the world would probably be a better place if there were rather more of it where we spent our money as we wish rather than having the tax leeches doing it for us. But that is still true, that the very argument for government financing is so that your, or my, prejudices and desires don’t influence what is researched.

Aha, Aha, Aha

This was always one of the goals of People’s QE, which was one of the core pillars of Corbynomics. Two years ago this was at the centre of Corbyn’s appeal when he became party leader. As its author I am delighted to see that it still survives. And I wholeheartedly support this use of it.

When saying so I also note that the Nuffield Trust that said the cost of doing this would be the gross revenues of the contracts is talking utter nonsense: the compensation due is at most for the discounted value of the contracts taking into account the inherent risks within that income stream.

Oh, so net present value, discounting, does in fact work then? The value of a company is the NPV, the value of a contract is the NPV…..gosh, what stump thinking!

From the newspaper:

In response to claims the plan would be prohibitively expensive, a Labour spokesman said: “Shareholders will be compensated in the form of government bonds, exchanged for shares. Parliament will assess the appropriate level of compensation at the point at which contracts are brought back in house”.

So the PFI contracts will be brought back right to where they should be, on the national debt then? Isn’t that going to be wondrous, rather constraining future actions I think, no?

So, that’s 100% of GDP on the national debt then

The bill for public sector pensions has soared by 30% over the past year to more than £1.8 trillion — almost equal to the annual output of the entire economy.

The surge has been caused by the drop in bond yields since the EU referendum — lower returns on government bonds increase the cost of future pensions, as expressed in today’s money.

So, shouldn’t we be raising interest rates then?

Nope, Frances Ryan’s numbers still don’t add up

In many ways, the erosion of the local welfare fund is the definition of austerity at its worst: the state should be stripped back and the poorest and ill must go cap in hand to survive. But how we respond to it can define the sort of society we want Britain to be: whether in a crisis there should be a safety net to help a family get by or whether, ultimately, we are all on our own — families with disabled children included.

So, this erosion of that local thing:

Just four years ago, Kirsty could have turned to what was known as the “social fund”, a central government-run system of low-cost loans and grants for families in financial emergencies. But then austerity arrived and in 2013 the coalition government scrapped all community care grants and crisis loans, replacing them with a patchwork of devolved programmes that cash-strapped local authorities had no obligation to fund. The Conservatives claim that councils are “best-placed to decide how to support local welfare needs”,

Ah, so, it’s not an erosion is it? It’s actually the establishment of a local scheme, or schemes.

Which they don’t appear to be doing all that well, which is interesting, isn’t it? Because the same people who complain about this are the people who insist that local councils should be housing us all aren’t they? You know, with all that competence they’re showing here?

As I’ve been saying

An estimated 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016, a quarter of them children, according to new global slavery statistics released today.

Be wary of that number, this includes a very wide definition indeed. However:

The 2017 Estimates of Modern Slavery report calculates that of 24.9 million victims of forced labour, 16 million are thought to be in the private economy, 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation and 4.1 million in state-sponsored forced labour including mandatory military conscription and agricultural work.

Conscription is slavery. Those who advocate mandatory national youth schemes and the like should take note.

Amusing, no?

Billionaire Russian oligarchs and Ukrainian elites accused of corruption are among hundreds of people who have acquired EU passports under controversial “golden visa” schemes, the Guardian has learnt.

The government of Cyprus has raised more than €4bn since 2013 by providing citizenship to the super rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through this scheme last year alone.

Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.

A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes, seen by the Guardian, includes prominent businesspeople and individuals with considerable political influence.

The ‘golden visa’ deal: ‘We have in effect been selling off British citizenship to the rich’
Read more
The leak marks the first time a list of the super rich granted Cypriot citizenship has been revealed. A former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire are among the new names.

The list sheds light on the little-known but highly profitable industry and raises questions about the security checks carried out on applicants by Cyprus.

To not grant asylum and then citizenship to a 25 year old who rocks up claiming to be 15 is scandalous. To charge for it is scandalous.